Please go and see “300” for the history lesson

by oneafrikan on April 7, 2007

I’ve just come back from watching 300 with my brother and Ryan at the Imax here in London, and even though it’s the second time I’ve seen it, I found the story just as moving, and the visual stuff just as awesome (Frank Miller is a genius). The Imax experience is great too!

A few people I’ve spoken to have expected the movie to be something epic, and seem to have come away disappointed by it. I’ve also heard some people talk of how violent it is, and that it’s over the top. I’m not sure how to respond to them.

About 2.5 years ago I was in a small second hand bookshelf in Norfolk, and this hardcover book just jumped out at me. It was called The Year of Thermopylae, and the cover talked about this epic battle that was a pivotal moment in history. So, I bought it since the book was only a fiver, and I wanted something interesting to read.

As luck would have it I didn’t read the book until late last year, mainly because when I first started reading it, it was dry and historical with little context. After reading Steven Pressfields “Gates of Fire“, which I picked up at the airport on the way to holiday in Greece (fitting I thought at the time), I became much more interested in the topic, since I had picked up the context through a piece of brilliant histrical fiction. After those two books, I’ve started reading a further two which are also historical, and when I have the hankering I scour the internet for more reading.

I don’t want to get into the details of the Spartan way of life, their philosophies, or the actual details of the battle, but what I think is important is that if you’re reading this, you should reflect on the mechanics of the situation:
300 Spartan soldiers and their King, their helots, and about 7 000 other Greek soldiers, defended a narrow pass for 4 days, in dry, hot, hard, fierce, bloody, brutal hand to hand combat, until they were totally annihilated by the arrows of surrounding archers.

I simply cannot imagine what that must have been like, and I can only be grateful that hopefully I’ll never have to experience hand to and combat.

Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here, obedient to their laws, we lie.” – that’s roughly the message on the moument where the battle took place, and it illustrates perfectly the laconic irony the Spartans posessed.

Simply put, the battle of Thermopylae, which is what the movie is all about, allowed the ideals of freedom and democracy to become rooted in Greek culture and society, and thus later in Western Civilisation. Without the battle and the Spartans, it’s more than probable that the Persian King Xerxes would have overrun Greece, and enslaved it. But because they did that, the combined Greek (included the largest ever assembled Spartan force) army defeated Xerxes in the Battle of Plataa, Greece was not enslaved, 50 golden years of Greek thought and philosophy gave rise to what we now call freedom.
We can get into the effect that Alexander the Great had another time…

In general I don’t think that people give the kind of lives we lead a second thought – we tend to take it for granted, forgetting the sacrifices and huge losses many people before us have had to bear to enable us to live the way we do. In todays battlefield where we wreak havoc from afar with missiles and big guns, we’re very far removed from the smell of blood and the fear of death. Imagine if our leaders today still went into battle like they used to – I think we’d fight less wars!

So, I don’t want to say the movie is a masterpiece (I enjoyed it!), or worthy of Oscars, or something that will go down in history, or something that has changed the way people think of war (perhaps like “Saving Private Ryan” probably has), but what is important to me is that the movie has indirectly introduced the battle and it’s significance to a wider audience that probably would never have had exposure to it before. If they ever make a movie out of Steven Pressfields book, that would be awesome too.

Go see the film, watch it for what it is, and think about what it’s all about ;-)

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